In recent years the character of Sherlock Holmes has been living a new heyday, firmly planting himself at the forefront of collective imagination through a series of successful adaptations and re-imaginings both on the big and the small screen. The Final Curtain, brought to the stage by Theatre Royal Bath from the pen of Simon Reade, performs a different kind of operation, picking up the story exactly where we left it, or rather, when Arthur Conan Doyle did – in the aftermath of the first World War, with Holmes and Doctor Watson, and the other familiar characters, in their old age and dealing with various forms of retirement. This is the starting point for a plot involving the inevitable murder mystery and, somewhat surprisingly, a ghost, in a nod to both the attention devoted to spiritualism in the years between the two centuries and the devoted interest of Conan Doyle himself to the subject.
The play is clearly an effort of love towards an author and a character, and this emerges clearly from the writing, which easily displays a detailed knowledge of its subject matter, and manages the most important of feats in what is a rather ambitious enterprise: to make its story sound like it could easily be part of the authentic Holmes canon. The writing nails the voices of both Holmes and Watson perfectly, not trying to smooth their less pleasant edges nor to overplay their quirks; in this it is aided by two top-notch performances from Robert Powell and Timothy Knightley respectively. Worthy of mention are also Liza Goddard as Mary Watson, managing to make her character far more multifaceted than the original writing ever aimed to, and Anna O’Grady as Miss Hudson, shouldering a difficult weight as the only fully original character in the play with wit and grace.
With is undoubtedly a strength in a work like this, that does not shy away from being lighthearted and, rather than considering it a weakness, makes a strength of its ability to elicit a laugh in its audience. There is throughout the writing a gentle undertone of almost-parody, within the confines of its deep respect for the original material, which pokes fun, with a soft and pleasant touch, at Conan Doyle’s love of theatricality, his recurring plot twists, and his sometimes pompous tones. But there is also an acknowledgement of his authentic sense of humour, which is replicated with the same loyalty devoted to all other aspects. All in all, these are the most believable Holmes and Watson we have seen in a long time, and it is delightful to see them coming to grips with modernity, and technology, and what appears to be, at least on the surface, a supernatural plot.
The introduction of this latter may sound jarring, but it is perfectly integrated in the flow of the narration, and it has a clever and satisfying resolution that, in itself, is good reason to go see the play. The direction of David Grindley oversees a tight but effective tempo, aided by a very clever staging that allows for multiple changes of setting without being disruptive or creating hiccups in the action. Only the ending comes perhaps across as slightly drawn out, with a last-minute addition that might have been not entirely necessary, but it is a minor flaw that is not an obstacle to the enjoyment of the play.
The Final Curtain is an entertaining, funny, intriguing experience with a solid plot and some remarkable acting performances, which evokes the familiar atmosphere of a Sherlock Holmes tale and leaves the audience with a sense of being reunited with an old friend. It has enough irony not to take itself too seriously, and yet takes itself seriously enough to put sufficient weight behind its plot twists. A variety of different audiences will no doubt get something interesting out of it.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtainruns from 25 – 30 Juneand tickets are available from the Box Office on (029) 2087 8889 andnewtheatrecardiff.co.uk.
Chiara Strazzulla is a New Voices reviewer supported by Wales Critics Fund